Being conscious and feeling the pain are some myths perpetuated about general anaesthesia.
Anaesthesia was a game-changer
for modern medicine when it was
first successfully used on a patient
by American dentist William
Morton on Oct 16, 1846.
Since then, surgery has become
largely pain-free for patients, even
as doctors are doing increasingly
delicate and complex surgical
The mark of a successful general
anaesthesia is that the patient remembers
nothing of the surgery
when he wakes up. And that is what
happens almost all of the time.
Not surprisingly, what sticks in
people’s minds are stories of the
very rare cases of people who are
conscious during part of the
surgery. These stories propagate
misconceptions and anxiety in
Patients with lower education
levels and a lack of awareness
tended to be more anxious. The
most common myths were feeling
pain during surgery, waking up
during surgery and becoming
paralysed after surgery.
Many patients may not know that
an anaesthesiologist is part of the
teamthat operates on them.
“Anaesthesiologists diagnose and
treat medical problems or conditions
that may arise before, during
and after surgery, even while you
sleep,” said Dr Tay Yoong Chuan, a
consultant anaesthesiologist at the
Singapore General Hospital.
Here are his responses to some
myths related to anaesthesia:
MYTH:The anaesthesia might
wear off during surgery and
I will wake up but be unable
to call for help.
FACT: Consciousness during surgery
is extremely rare. Before
surgery, your anaesthesiologist will
talk to you about your health and
previous anaesthesia experience.
This will enable him to provide you
with the best and safest care plan to
reduce the risk of problems.
MYTH:I may end up paralysed.
FACT: If you choose to have
regional anaesthesia, you will be
unable to move your arms or legs
during surgery. Regional anaesthesia
allows a part of the body to be
anaesthetised for surgery without
the need for general anaesthesia.
While there may be residual
paralysis of a limb, this is temporary,
until the medication wears off.
Before being discharged from
hospital, proper limb-care education
is provided to protect it until
full sensation and strength returns.
Permanent numbness and weakness
of the limbs are extremely rare.
MYTH:I will still feel pain
FACT: The anaesthesiologist is
trained to provide pain relief
during surgery. Do inform your
doctor if you have any lingering
pain after surgery. As pain is
subjective, your anaesthesiologist
will attend to your needs.
MYTH:I might not wake up
FACT: Undergoing general anaesthesia
is like going into a very deep
sleep, after which you should wake
up. This is the experience of
patients, unless a serious event like
a stroke has occurred.
Your anaesthesiologist will meet
you before a procedure to discuss
your individual risk associated with
If there is a need for you to be
closely monitored after a procedure,
you will be sedated during
your stay in intensive care.
When your condition stabilises,
you will be woken up slowly.